A for Achiever

Paige Claassen is surprisingly unknown, considering. Alex Johnson, 19, the women's winner at the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado, in June, said after the event, Paige would have crushed!

By Rock and Ice | October 20th, 2009

Paige Claassen is surprisingly unknown, considering. Alex Johnson, 19, the women’s winner at the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado, in June, said after the event, Paige would have crushed! She beat me in New Jersey. But she’s really under the radar.

Johnson had placed second and Lizzy Asher third at the Gravity Brawl in Fairfield, New Jersey, in March.

Claassen, 18, of Estes Park, Colorado, was at every round of the Bouldering World Cup, held at the Teva Games, as a judge. Newly out of surgery on her foot, for bursitis on her heel (aggravated by sizing her climbing shoes too small), she clumped around in a boot cast, or, when sore, occupied a wheelchair pushed by such buddies as Emily Harrington and Angie Payne. She had been told not to expect to climb for four months, which is a lot longer than I had planned on, she says. I was hoping for more like two.

Both a good boulderer and lead climber, Claassen, then still 17, in January placed a surprise second behind Harrington at the adult National Championship, a lead comp held in Sandy, Utah. Two weeks later she was third at the ABS Bouldering Nationals, in Boulder. In the summer of 2007, she traveled overseas and logged a very creditable 12th at an adult comp in Serre Chevalier, France, then was 13th out of 68 women at the World Championship in Aviles, Spain, surprising herself in making the semifinals.

On rock, Paige has led 5.13s in Rifle, Colorado, and Spain, and has deep-water soloed up to 5.12b in Mallorca.

Michelle Hurni, her longtime coach on the Estes Park Climbing Team, says that over the years Paige became a leader on the team, which has members as young as 10, but she’s still able to act silly and be a kid.

Claassen, cited as a straight-A student since kindergarten on her resume, was recently one of 40 awardees of a prestigious Boettcher Foundation scholarship, which provides all expenses for any college in the state. A total of 1,111 students from Colorado had applied.

She will enter the University of Colorado at Boulder this autumn, and hopes to be pre-med.


How was it judging at the Teva Games?

Kind of depressing. The Teva Games are an event I look forward to all year. The whole weekend was so fun, and I watched all the climbers and knew that I could compete with them, and I was looking at the routes and would try to figure out how well I thought I could have done on each route.


What did you experience competing in Europe?

Seeing how strong the international competitors are, and what I need to do and how I need to train. Their approach is so different.

How so?

They’ll spend 15 minutes on a route … It’s more like a puzzle to them, instead of a physical feat. It’s not just who is the strongest, but who can keep their mental game together, figure out these crazy moves. In the U.S., competitors rarely use their allotted amount of time, even when it’s only six minutes.

It’s not so much one hard move on their routes. All the holds are big, so it is just many smaller, easier moves. They might take more figuring out, and power, [but] you don’t approach and find one move that trips you up.

We also don’t have a lot of huge horizontal roofs where you stay on the roof for 10 or 12 moves. They have those huge gyms over there.


Did your parents start you climbing?

My parents are not rock climbers. Dad had always been into hiking and the outdoors. Previously I tried other sports and nothing ever really clicked. I don’t have any talent that involves sports with a ball. He took me to the gym and it just totally clicked. Then my brother got involved a couple years later, and he climbs.


Other interests?

I recently took up the guitar because since I couldn’t climb I’ve been extremely bored. And I like to cook a lot, which can work for or against me. I like to cook dinner for the family. I’m really into making healthy things and my family isn’t always into that. No one liked the applesauce cookies.


What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Climbing and cooking. Climbing and cookies are good.


What’s the worst thing that ever happened in your climbing?

One National in California, I slipped off really, really early in semis and didn’t make the finals. I almost quit to play basketball. I was just burnt out. I think I’m to the point now that I’ll probably never burn out. I’m consistent and climbing has become my lifestyle. I’ve realized in the last few months that when I can’t climb I don’t know what to do with myself.

Everything I do revolves around climbing. Training, going outside, how I eat, hanging out with climbers, reading climbing magazines, planning travel.


OK, Paige, have you ever gotten a B?

I got a B once in anatomy. It was like an 89.9 or something.

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